As usual, my word for the year organically emerged sometime around the turning of the year. You’d have thought I’d have had enough of ‘pause’ in 2020 what with the pandemic, losing my day job, travel plans disrupted, multiple lockdowns and all. But I am finding the space for new ways of being and openings to explore.
One of the ways that I drive myself, and some of those around me, crazy is getting into this frenetic frenzy where I have to figure it all out NOW! I often start lots of things at once, get overwhelmed and shut them all down. Other times, I want to begin, but there are too many projects to choose from so I freeze like a deer in the headlights, procrastinate and don’t begin anything, then feel bad about that.
The Pandemic Pause has given me the opportunity that I didn’t know I needed. The opportunity to cease all activity and plans and to begin again from a more centered place. The studio re-organization I did over the summer sure does help with this. When my physical space gets messy (which can be a reflection of my inner space) I can pause and tidy everything away to its proper place. This mindless activity, when done mindfully, can give my busy mind a break.
BTW, today I paused long enough to figure out how to resize a photo taken on my phone and upload it to WordPress AND took the time to figure out how to use the new Gutenberg editor, which I have been avoiding for the past few months. There are some interesting photo collage features I want to learn about.
After a pause of course! 🙂
So here’s to pausing . . . . . and finding centering, renewal and refreshment.
pause (n) early 15c., “a delay, a temporary rest in singing or speaking,” from Old French pausee “a pause, interruption” (14c.) and directly from Latin pausa “a halt, stop, cessation.”
‘a short period in which something such as a sound or an activity is stopped before starting again’
One of the events from 2020 that had the most profound effect on me was the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer on May 29th and the consequent eruption of the International Back Lives Matter protests.. We get the weekend papers and I was so deeply disturbed by the coverage of yet another incident of police brutatlity.
On Monday morning, I went into my studio and designed a Covid-19 mask in Photoshop using the Brooks slave ship image superimposed with ‘I Can’t Breathe’. The direct connection between the history of slavery and police brutality in the US is so obvious to me.
The slave ship Brooks was first drawn and published in an abolitionist broadside by William Elford and the Plymouth chapter of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in November 1788. It was published in Bristol the following year and would be redrawn and republished many times in Britain and America in the years that followed. It came to epitomize the cruelties of the trade in enslaved Africans of the 18th and 19th centuries and the struggle to abolish that trade.The Brooks itself was an actual people-carrying slave ship, one of 26 surveyed in Liverpool, under instructions received from the prime minister, William Pitt, by Captain Parrey of the Royal Navy. It is possible that Pitt himself leaked Parrey’s findings to the Plymouth and London abolitionist committees. The Brooks was chosen as an example by the abolitionists because it was the first ship on Parrey’s list, well-known in the trade and typical of this type of vessel.
This article was published in the Moorlander on 12th June, 2020:
Powerful artwork giving voice to those brutalised by racists
An American artist who has lived in the UK since 1998 and moved to Moretonhampstead 11 years ago, has created a powerful artwork in response to the riots raging across the USA.
As many will know, the riots were sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an African-American man who had been handcuffed by a white policeman, who then kneeled on his neck for nine minutes. Floyd’s repeated pleas of, “I can’t breathe” were ignored by the policeman, and he died of asphyxiation.
For Melinda Schwakhofer, the phrase reminded her of how the same words were uttered in 2014 by another African-American, Eric Garner, who was also murdered by a white police officer.
“The phrase haunted me. As I was already making masks for a Facebook Group called ‘Breathe’ https://www.facebook.com/groups/856750661403515/ I wanted to use the phrase on a face mask that captured how I feel about the whole issue of how the USA has never fully accepted that many of its problems stem from white supremacy and a failure to confront the legacy of the slave trade.”
Melinda’s piece incorporates a well-known eighteenth century engraving of the slave ship Brooks. First drawn and published as part of an abolitionist publication by the Plymouth chapter of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in November 1788, it has been reprinted thousands of times since. The drawing shows just one deck of a slave ship, with the iron-shackled human cargo crammed into claustrophobically small spaces.
“I used the drawing as the foundation of the mask and hand-painted the phrase ‘I Can’t Breathe’ over the top. This mask draws a direct line from the system of slavery that existed then to the inherent racism of US society now,” says Melinda.
Making the mask reminded Melinda of the first time that she became aware of the effects of racism: “There were eight words that changed my world view,” she says. “I grew up in suburban Los Angeles with White, Hispanic, Black and Asian people living in my neighbourhood and going to my school.
“When I was 20, in the early 1980s, I hung out with one of my fitness instructors, Mark. We ate dinner at each other’s houses and got to know something about one another’s worlds. I took him to an art house cinema, he took me out dancing to Peanuts, his favourite club in West Hollywood.
“When I invited Mark to an espresso bar in Pasadena, where I lived, Mark asked me, ‘Will there be any other Black people there?’. I had never before in my life thought, before going to a new place, whether there would be people who looked like me. Of course as a woman, I’d had to think my whole life about being safe and avoiding certain people and places. But this was something completely different.
“Those eight words, spoken by a friend, opened my eyes to the privilege I’d taken for granted the first 20 years of my life.
“Minneapolis is burning. We need to listen.”
There are people in the UK who don’t understand why anyone living here feels the need to address what is happening in the United States, however it is particularly relevant in this 400th anniversary year of the sailing of the Mayflower. The voyage it made symbolises the oppression of indigenous people in America by Europeans and the herald of many deaths, yet many British people view the anniversary as a cause of celebration. If people were truly aware of the impact the Mayflower’s landing had on innocent Native Americans, the only humane response would be shame and horror.
Melinda’s background as an American with Native American (Mvskoke) and Austrian heritage who has made England her home, gives her a uniquely relevant view on both this and the current situation in the United States. She is all too aware of the racism that was directed at her father and ancestors.
It is only by raising awareness of racism and of white privilege that all people can be treated as human beings. There is still racism in our society; I have witnessed it. By holding witness to it anywhere, we help eradicate it everywhere.
When I posted the prototype mask on my Facebook feed I was asked by several friends (in the US and the UK) if it could be duplicated for purchase. I’ve spent much of the past several months trialing different mask patterns, designing a thermofax screen and learning to make my own printing dyes. I have now produced a design I am offering a first run to the people who first expressed an interest and will offer to make a few limited runs to those who are interested.
The fabric is screen-printed and each one is unique. Adjustable behind the ear elastic ensures that they will fit a range of people. They have the usual protection of a two-layer fabric mask against Covid, which is that it would deter transmission if the wearer was infected. This mask is meant to be more of a protest statement and art piece, than a medical device.
The only other time it had been shown was in 1999. That was the year I graduated from the Chippendale International School of Furniture. It was part of my end of the year exhibition of work.
Well, the barn caught fire in August of this year. The wooden interior and all of its contents were destroyed. Luckily, all of the quilts and bedding are stored safely at home.
Fortunately, the fire stayed in the barn and none of the dwellings nearby caught fire. My friend took this mesmerizing video.
I went to survey the damage a couple of days later. The barn had been 2 storied. The orange circle is roughly where the bed frame and mattress were stored.
We couldn’t go into the structure until yesterday because it was too unstable. We went and sifted through the charcoal and ash. I recovered a couple of pieces of charred wood from the frame and the metal supports that held the mattress.
People who know about my bed are more shocked than I about the fire. I’m not quite sure why I feel so detached about it. Part of it is the grieving process, which goes in stages. Part of it is that once I finish a piece of work, it’s behind me.
Enter the Forest of Dreams tells a very deep story about my romantic life, but it has never been a part of my life.
One of my friends summed it up when she likened it to hearing that a distant friend has died. Someone you were close to at one time, but had lost touch with.
I’m planning to use some of the charcoal to draw some pictures of the bed and about the loss of the frame. One of the pieces will be preserved as an artifact. Perhaps one day, I’ll make a different bed using the metal supports and other materials. It is all for me to dream on.
Since lockdown I have been mostly at home, except for my daily walks around the neighborhood. Home is a safe place and we have pretty much cleaned, tidied and re-organized every room and storage space which is very satisfying!
Quite a few people have said to me ‘This is great for you! You’re an artist. You will have so much time to make artwork!!’ But I haven’t really had the energy or headspace to concentrate on making very much new artwork. What has been keeping me grounded and satisfying my artist self has been organizing all of the beautiful colored art supplies in my studio.
I have a LOT of fabric, collected over 25 years of quilting. It’s been sorted by color and piled into big plastic boxes. It was so great to dump each box onto my studio floor, fold each piece and arrange them by hue or tone before putting them back into the box. I cut some strips of cardboard to divide them into rows which should help keep them tidy. I also got re-acquainted with my fabric, thought about the quilts that they are now part of, and have had some initial thoughts about future work. I have been enjoying the red, black and white palette that has comprised so much of my work for the past few years, but now feel ready to work with more colors.
Likewise, I sorted my sequins.
One of the most exciting things has been getting a rainbow’s worth of embroidery thread. I’ve not been much of a hand embroiderer/sewer over the past 25 years, preferring the speed of using my sewing machine.
One of the online courses I have been co-tutoring is Slow Stitch for Wellbeing. After we check-in, I speak to the group about a different topic each session: the philosophy of the Slow Stitch Movement, the importance of working with our hands, wabi-sabi, and letting go of perfection. Then my teaching partner shows us a hand stitch or two. Finally, we all stitch silently together.
I found a very exciting tutorial on how to label plastic floss cards! Every day for about a week I spent time winding thread onto my bobbins and sorting them by color. So satisfying and rewarding!
I am also a core artist in the Quarantine Quilt Project. I made a 7″ square which represents feelings, responses and/or experiences to the pandemic.
I arranged 16 squares of different colored fabric onto a grey square and slow stitched over most of them. The Anchor thread label represents how I have been grounded and anchored through the process of sorting and organizing my fabric and art supplies over the past several weeks. The birds represent Steve and I, unbound and unfettered, safely enclosed but with space to fly out when we’d like to.
I hope that each of you are finding whatever you need to get you through this time in the best way possible.